Monday, October 7, 2013

Resilient Infrastructure

During the government shutdown I mentioned that the Governor of Colorado has employed the National Guard to continue to restore critical infrastructure without the financial support of the federal government. The reason is that without these critical conduits, a number of communities in Colorado would remain cut off throughout the winter, exacerbating the damage done and potentially reframing the options families and municipalities have when they do get back to assess the damage. Frozen water will warp houses and blowout foundations-so the need for gaining access is critical to salvaging what's left in those communities.

And it got me thinking...when we talk about community preparedness, we don't talk about our nation's infrastructure which seemingly go hand-in-hand. Within the dept. of homeland security there is an entire office devoted to the protection of infrastructure but it's unclear (to me) who is responsible for it's maintenance and upkeep? Some Federal Agency? Is it the State's responsibility? And as I thought about it in the context of response and recovery, building in resilience and the issues of upkeep/maintenance are crucial.

But before we go further lets get on the same page as to what infrastructure is. My narrow-minded view limited infrastructure to: roads, bridges, and rail transport...but it turns out it, there's much more to it according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Infrastructure ranges from: Aviation and Dams to Drinking Water, Energy, Hazardous Waste, Inland Waterways, Levees, Ports, and so much more.

To give you an idea of the enormity of the challenge associated with upkeep and maintenance, there are 600,000+ bridges in the US. and 1 in 9 of them is structurally deficient...and that's just bridges.

Given that we've defined infrastructure as basically everything that enables us to live the lives we're accustomed to--water from our faucets, goods in our stores, electricity at the ready, and schools to teach our children, how's all that infrastructure doing? Judging by recent history--not so good, remember The I-5 Skagit River Bridge Collapse in WA and the I-35W Mississippi Bridge Collapse? Of course that's only two events and bridge events at that, but when it comes to is too many and given all the elements that makeup our infrastructure, any deficiency in one area will have an impact in others.

Since we've already determined that infrastructure is about much more than bridges, where do you go to better understand the current state of our infrastructure? You go to the Infrastructure Report Card put out by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Every 4 years the ASCE rates our infrastructure--this year, the US infrastructure received a D+ and the site above provides a very interactive way to why.

Regardless of whether you see the ASCE issuing this report as a massive conflict of interest or not, the fact remains that resilient infrastructure is an important building block to resilient communities. How will the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power, the utility overseeing the water infrastructure in Los Angeles, providing 3.9 million people drinking water through 11,000+kms of piping in a very seismically active area, deal with the service disruptions caused by the next big earthquake? Thinking through these types of scenarios and integrating innovation that will work to improve infrastructure resilience will ultimately deburden those responsible for its restoration during response/early recovery.

It's in our best interest to ensure that our "infrastructure" as broadly encompassing a word as it is, be as resilient and up to date as possible so that when they are tested by a disaster it can be up and running as quickly as possible and while we're making gains--we need to be doing better.

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